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Who will shine the light?
by Florida Ron

I wanted to share the sermon that Nail Bender's story inspired along with the responses and contributions of others here at DPS.


Mary shuffled slowly down the dark, deserted street, pulled her tattered coat closer about her and cursed the hateful wind. It had no heart and knew only to blow against her progress with a numbing, knife-like edge — cutting her emaciated body to the bone. She pushed on, forced by her own condition. She felt the frantic struggle which had begun deep within her womb. The time was too early. She knew it had only been five or six months, perhaps seven, but surely no more than that. Still, the un-cooperating presence within her punctuated her need for haste. "Where was that damn clinic?" She hurried on. Old newspapers, discarded sandwich wrappers, and other litter, a sign of bustling urban life, tumbled unhampered down the cold streets. Hanging at the intersection by the empty drug store, the traffic light swayed in the stiff breeze and cast an eerie glow on the vacant buildings. An empty McDonald's bag, grease stains on its sides, fluttered in the bare branches of the lilac bush.

The grass in the church yard, like the lilac bush, was showing the death-face of winter. The church stood in the midst of this wintry onslaught as it had for so many years. Its strong red-brick sides stood as a battlement against the hostile night. Just inside the weathered rod-iron gate, there on the brown grass, was the Christmas Scene. It had been painstakingly built by some of the men of the church and in just a few moments would be the stage for a joyous reenactment of that Holy Story. It would be a glorious affair replete with singing choirs, wondrous costumes, and a bright twinkling light suspended over the make believe stable. To the side of the church, the parking lot was almost filled to capacity and a large crowd had gathered on the sidewalk, spilling onto the edge of the street. They drank mugs of steaming cocoa and hot apple cider, and buzzed with eager expectation. A farmer and his burly son were leading two sheep and a cow to the stable. It was hoped that the animals would provide a sense of realism lacking from the pageants being presented at other locations on this special night.

Inside the church, men and women made final adjustments to their costumes. The children, who were to play the part of the shepherds, received last-minute instructions from the play's director. "Remember, you must look frightened when the angels first appear." All were soon called to their places and waited impatiently at the door as the clock ticked down the final minutes. Some nervously whispered, the children giggled excitedly, while the veterans of past pageants wore the smug expressions of having done it all before.

The girl struggled on but her pain was coming in ever increasing waves and her frantic steps were becoming more and more difficult. Making the clinic was now out of the question as Mary desperately began looking for some make-shift birthing room. "How could this have ever happened ... Oh, God, it hurts so bad." She stumbled down a dark alley between the old furniture store, closed now for five years, and Sam's Electrical Outlet. Icy water dripped slowly from the rusty gutters. She pulled herself up against the metal dumpster and as the spasms racked her thin body, she dug her dirty fingernails into the grimy concrete. The time was soon — so soon.

The crowd chuckled as child-shepherds stared wide-eyed at the singing angels. Three bearded men, clothed in the most magnificent of costumes, gathered their ornate gifts about them and started their long trip across the church yard toward the twinkling light suspended over the make-believe stable. A few of the on-lookers loudly booed as a gruff innkeeper refused lodging for the virgin and her husband but instead, with a sweep of his arm, directed them to the now smelly stable. The farm animals rustled nervously as the choir closed the traveler's journeys with rapturous song. And the crowd smiled.

The time had come and Mary gasped, in agony. Spittle dripped from her cracked lips and blood ran from her torn fingers. With no help and no guidance, her ignorance stoked her fear which grew and grew, and like a monstrous wave, drowned her in unimaginable horror. Nature was taking its brutal course. She screamed.

The actors had now all reached the stable. They gathered around a rough-hewn manger, a portrait of radiant serenity. The lights slowly faded black and the crowd broke into applause — truly thunderous applause. Soon the church-yard was again empty and the actors and spectators were making their way to the comfort of warm, brightly decorated homes.

Inside the dank, fetid alley, inside the wilderness of an urban maze, a small body was pressed against the young girls breast. It twitched and twisted a few times, shuddered, then lay still. Mary's choking cries for help went ignored and unanswered as her son slowly grew cold.

The virgin's child, who was now a King, closed his eyes and silently — wept for them all.

And a voice cried in the wilderness, "Who? Who will make the paths straight? Who will embrace the broken-one who is to come? Who will shine the light?"

They came by the thousands from all over the nation. They came from as far away as Ireland and Australia. In resplendent dark blue uniforms with gleaming buttons they came. With eyes glistening with tears they marched six abreast to a service of memory and honor for six of their kind who had given their lives for others. The Worcester Centrum held thousands of people there to honor and remember heroism and selfless acts of giving. Outside the Centrum 50,000 more gathered to express their appreciation for the sacrifice of six brave men. Most of the 500 fire fighters of the Worcester Fire Department were not there. They were some blocks away searching through the rubble of the warehouse for the bodies of the remaining four comrades yet to be retrieved from that foul pit of smouldering ruins.

On December 3 a homeless couple living in that foul shelter from the northern cold had knocked over a candle and started a blaze. They fled. Soon the massive structure was engulfed in flames. When the fire fighters arrived they were well aware that this rotting building was home to the poor and destitute. They knew not whether anyone was in the building. They did not speculate on the worth of the human rejects who called the place home. Two of their number entered the building to bring out to safety any who might be trapped in the building. Those two became trapped and four more entered to save their comrades. All six lost their lives. They left behind 17 children who are now without a father. They left behind families who will themselves struggle with the aftermath of this tragedy for the rest of their lives. But these six were fire fighters. They were guardians of the public safety. They thought there were homeless people in that wretched building so they went in to save lives. They did not stop to make a value judgment about the sort of people that the building sheltered. It only mattered that people might die. They did not hesitate because they might be the ones to die.

The virgin's child, who was now a King, closed his eyes and silently — wept for them all.

And a voice cried in the wilderness, "Who? Who will make the paths straight? Who will embrace the broken-one who is to come? Who will shine the light?"

The large church sits passively along the busy suburban boulevard. Hundreds of people regard this place as their spiritual home. They are ever so busy with so many things — especially at this time of year. In this season they have dedicated a garden of memory to provide a final resting place for the ashes of those who wish to remain attached to this wonderful place for time to come. Parties and delicious feasts call many to this place to celebrate the season. There is much inviting to one another's homes and to parties in other places. There is much preparation for yet another telling of the story of a virgin's child in music and pageantry. People are elected and installed to positions of leadership in this time of celebration. Marriages are blessed and food is brought forward to share with those who are less fortunate than those who gather to celebrate. Many Christmas gifts for children of the migrant workers and for Kids in Distress have already been brought forward, yet the Christmas tree still holds the names of a dozen children who have no one scurrying about to make their Christmas cheery. Sermons are preached at four worship services and Holy Communion is celebrated at two. The story of John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness is read yet another time. Perhaps getting a bit old as we are eager to get on with the real celebration of Christmas. This happy and content people are already celebrating and looking forward to the big day itself. If there is a Mary clutching at her pre-mature birth pains along our streets we are unaware of such a creature. Not even sure want to know about it. If there are homeless squatting in an abandoned building or a cardboard shack in the Weeki Watchee Preserve we are unaware of such unfortunates. Not even sure we want to know about it. We draw our attention back to the story of John the Baptist yet one more time. Forcing ourselves to listen again to that warning voice. We are sure that tragedy and poverty are not waiting to interfere with our celebration.

The virgin's child, who was now a King, closed his eyes and silently — wept for them all.

And a voice cried in the wilderness, "Who? Who will make the paths straight? Who will embrace the broken-one who is to come? Who will shine the light?"